The Vietnam Analogy: Afghanistan (Part 2) by mattsteinglass
December 11, 2008, 9:01 am
Filed under: Afghanistan, Vietnam

I spent a few days this weekend with Mudassar Shah, a great Pakistani journalist who’s doing excellent stories on the tribal regions along the Afghan border, where he’s from. Over the weekend when the Taliban blew up that NATO truck depot, he was just working on a radio piece for Asia Calling about a ride he took with one of the local drivers who run the supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan. It’s a fabulous story and should be up by this weekend.

I found myself asking Mudassar repeatedly: what would happen if the US just withdrew from Afghanistan and Pakistan entirely? He said it was “impossible” and clearly didn’t support the idea, but then, he’s an open-minded and liberal person in a region that is viscerally threatened by medieval fanatics.

Here’s the dilemma as I see it. On the one hand it’s becoming increasingly clear that the West probably can’t defeat the Taliban in the struggle for control of Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, for many of the same reasons the US and France couldn’t defeat the Vietnamese Communists. At the same time, it’s also clear that the Taliban are by every Western ethical measure perfectly horrible. And this is what makes Afghanistan different from Iraq: Iraq was a multifaceted and hopelessly confusing civil war. But the Afghan Taliban really can be described as “Islamofascists”, as the neocons and liberal hawks like to do.

That’s why this Ezra Klein post criticizing a Nagl quote ends quite wrongly: ” I saw this movie in theaters back in 2003. And frankly, I didn’t like it.” I am coming to agree that the US is probably going to have to give up on Afghanistan. But it’s not because the description of Afghanistan as a partially liberalized Western client state where girls are threatened by murderous Islamic extremists is wrong. It’s because the murderous Islamic extremists are probably going to win, and I don’t see how we can stop them. It’s a far more dismal moral situation than Klein is willing to admit.


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